WHEN Nathan Walker was 13 he did something that was beyond brave.
He left his home and family in Sydney for the Czech Republic to pursue a dream.
Now the former Blacktown Flyer is 19 and that dream is indeed tantalisingly close to being fulfilled.
Walker went to the Czech Republic to play ice hockey and his ambition has been to become the first Australian to play in the United States' NHL, the pinnacle. He's now been invited to a Washington Capitals rookie camp.
Walker has been considered for the past two NHL drafts after impressing during his six seasons in the republic, and a partial season with Youngstown Phantoms in the United States Hockey League in 2012-2013.
In the republic, he had to cope with homesickness and applied himself to learning enough of new languages to get by, and he's become something of a linguist.
It was quite a homecoming a fortnight ago when the player, nicknamed Stormy for his speed and aggression, visited the Atoms, the youngsters who are future Flyers.
The club has moved to the Penrith Ice Palace, since the demise of the old Flyers and the closure of the Blacktown ice rink. He was the king of the kids, staying for three hours, helping with training and answering the Atoms' questions.
Now it's about to hot up again for Stormy, who has devoted himself to the ice since joining the Blacktown Flyers at seven.
"Every time after practice or every time after games I was coming home and saying, 'mum, I want to go overseas. I want to see what I can do against players my own age from different countries'," Walker has told the media of his motivation.
Walker went off to play in the Czech league with Vitkovice Steel and after years in a junior program, in 2011 became the first Australian to play in a European pro hockey game.
"Everything was so much quicker. You don't have much time," he's said of that introduction. The physical-contact, Australian-style game has suited Walker.
"They like to bang bodies. That's pretty much Australian hockey," has been his description. "I guess you could say I picked some of it up from rugby, too. When I went to the Czech Republic, I just stuck to my game and kept hitting everyone."
Dare it be said: he's been a big hit.